Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chapter 30

WILLSON
The hotelier reminded Christy of someone he’d seen in the paper for mucking about with little boys. While the fat man made coffee he advised them that while they were in the hotel they shouldn’t inject any gear they bought on the street in case they got ‘sickoso’. Patrick and Animal bought some dope from him but Christy declined. Patrick looked at Christy. ‘Hoo-fucking-ray. Another fun-packed holiday with Christy.’
Their room looked like the sort of place someone had died in. The walls were crude plasterboard partitions. There were three metal hospital bedsteads. The mattresses on top were bare, and black with grease and stains.
Animal and Patrick seemed unconcerned by the state of the room; it served its purpose. The three sat on the floor and Patrick began skinning up. Soon there was a knock at the door. Two men from the next room introduced themselves. Animal asked them in for a smoke. This had already been arranged. The men mentioned that they were from Bournemouth. Danny was doing his bit, roping in people he knew from the car auctions.
Christy went to the toilet to try to think but his brain was pounding. On returning he stood outside the room to hear what they were planning. He heard Patrick say, ‘Couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag.’
Animal laughed and said, ‘Couldn’t fight his way out of a bad trip.’
Christy entered. The others looked up at him with innocent faces. One of the characters from Bournemouth was finishing telling how earlier in the week the fat hotelier had jumped in the shower and tried to bugger him. Patrick and Animal were in hysterics. Soon the two Bournemouth men stood to leave. They’d said their lines; there was no need to stay.
Patrick suggested they got some sleep. Christy turned his mattress over. It was no better on the other side. He lay feigning sleep so they couldn’t plant any gear on him or spike him again. He waited until he could hear Patrick and Animal’s breathing getting deeper. He sat up, hooked his bag over his shoulder and began creeping towards the door.
The door swung open. One of the Bournemouth men entered, claiming that he thought he’d left his lighter in their room. Christy stood frozen. He heard Animal stirring behind him. He sat back down on the bed and tried to look like he’d just got up to answer the door.
Animal knew. ‘Where the fuck are you off to Christy?’
The Bournemouth man laughed and walked out. Christy dashed for the door like a scalded cat. Animal leapt half the width of the room and grabbed at the collar of Christy’s jacket. Christy’s legs flew out in front of him and he crashed to the floor. Patrick was up too by then. They couldn’t really have been sleeping. Patrick kicked the door shut.
Animal dropped down and held Christy’s arms as he kicked and struggled. He shouted to Patrick. ‘Sit on his legs for fuck’s sake. I can’t hold him.’
Pinned like an insect, Christy sweated. Patrick and Animal began acting like this wasn’t part of the script.
Patrick said, ‘What’s up? What are you fucking doing?’
‘I’ve got to get away. I’ve got to get away.’
Animal said, ‘Why?’
‘You fucking know. Everybody knows.’
Patrick and Animal glanced at each other. A look passed between them, as if things weren’t going as planned.
Animal said, ‘What do you think’s going to happen?’
‘You should know,’ Christy said. He tried to get a hand free to throw a punch. Animal put all his weight down on Christy’s wrists.
‘Do you think we’ve set you up?’ Patrick asked.
It seemed for a moment that they might confess and relent. Then Animal said, ‘Calm down Christy. You’re just flashing back.’
Christy lay there for an hour, flat on his back, crushed. The only escape was to pretend he’d given up the struggle. From the way they believed him this seemed to suit their plan. When Animal took Christy’s bag and put it under his mattress he was only maintaining the performance.
In the evening, on the way to the Melkweg, Christy tried to memorise the street names for later. He couldn’t stop looking at his watch. He couldn’t get used to the time being an hour later. He said, ‘I keep feeling like it’s earlier than it is.’
Patrick clenched his fists at his sides. ‘You say that one more time, I’ll throw you in a canal and fucking hold you under.’
They stopped at a take-away on Leidsestraat. Animal and Patrick asked if it sold widow’s memories. They looked at Christy and laughed. The woman behind the counter joined in. Animal and Patrick ordered chips with mayonnaise. Christy stood, pretending to choose. If he had the same as them it couldn’t have been spiked beforehand. But having the same would make it easier for them to put something in it and swap the portions without him noticing. So he ate nothing.
The concert hall at the Melkweg stunk of sweat, dope smoke and patchouli oil. It was packed.
Christy had to carry on acting the part until the right moment. The three of them elbowed their way to the front just as The Only Ones came onstage. They started with ‘Trouble In The World’, followed by ‘Language Problem’. Christy knew he had to wait it until the other two got lost in the music. The crowd calmed and loosened during a mournful ‘No Peace For The Wicked’. He edged behind Patrick and Animal and began working his way backwards.
Then Peter Perrett sloped up to the mic, smiled and said, ‘This next song’s going to bring a little ray of sunshine into your lives.’ The band hiccuped noisily into the opening of ‘Why Don’t You Kill Yourself?’. Christy turned and barged his way through the crowd.
The second he was outside, he ran. He kept running but didn’t feel he was getting away. All the streets crossing the canals looked identical. He couldn’t tell whether he was getting closer to the centre or skirting round it.

Chapter 29

WILLSON
The night before Amsterdam Christy sat in the back of the Wartburg with panic throbbing through his body. Something was happening. The pattern was repeating; people leaving, getting away. That afternoon his mother had left for a week with her sister in Swindon. She touched his elbow as a goodbye. That wasn’t usual. She stood at the front gate waiting for the minicab and whistling ‘I Remember You’. The cab came. She went. Another black car leaving.
Something was going on. Phil had pulled out of the Amsterdam trip. He said it clashed with Les’s eighteenth. Then Danny had decided not to go, giving no reason. When Animal asked Christy to take Danny’s place, Christy felt like he was sitting on a high ledge trying not to look down and fall. He looked down and fell; said yes. And now they were taking him to Dunmore.
Phil, Danny, Patrick and Animal led him into the front room of Dunmore Cottage. Everything was the same as it always had been.
Phil smiled at Dennis and Binny. ‘Here he is. Here we are again.’
Binny peered at Christy. He was judging him, Christy knew, working out the best strategy. Binny smiled. ‘I remember you.’
Three bongs later Patrick nudged the proceedings to the next stage. ‘Where’s this party then?’
Dennis answered. ‘Oh yeah. At the Freak Wharf. White Lackington. Used to be a hospital. Squatted now.’
Phil said, ‘Any entertainment there?’
Christy looked at Phil, wondering.
Binny grinned. ‘You’ll have to make your own entertainment.’
Dennis pulled a bag of tabs from his jacket pocket. ‘Talking of which.’
‘New lot?’ Animal asked.
‘Yeah,’ Dennis said. ‘Some are ducks, some are rabbits.’ He held the bag out to each of them in turn. ‘Take your pick.’
The bag reached Christy. He dipped in. No point trying to stop it all now.
Danny inspected his tab. ‘What’s everyone got?’
‘Rabbit.’
‘Rabbit.’
‘Rabbit.’
Christy looked confused. ‘I’ve got a duck.’
Animal smiled. ‘Christy’s out for a duck.’
Danny passed Christy a joint. ‘You ready for a ducking Christy?’
Christy balanced the tab on the end of his finger. He swallowed it down. No point now.
Animal clapped. ‘Yes! Straight back in with a whole tab.’
They must have given Christy something to make him sleep. Danny parked beside Dennis’s car. The four stepped out of the car and left Christy in the back, curled like a question mark.
The shell of the old cottage hospital stood against the sky, as black as a rotten tooth. Patrick pointed to it. ‘Never know when you might need a hospital.’
In the grounds people milled like cattle among the trees and shrubs. Near the hospital entrance was a pool of silver, an oval pond reflecting the moonlight and the floodlights. On the lawn was a pool of red, the crackling remains of a large fire. From the hospital windows speakers blared Motorhead. While Dennis and Binny wandered off to socialise, Danny, Animal, Phil and Patrick bought beers out of black dustbins and stood checking their watches.

A metallic bang. The driver’s door of the car yanked open. Christy woke tripping, with the upward rush of a diver surfacing. Danny lunged across the front seats, grabbed a small package from the glove compartment and tossed it out of the door. Righting himself he looked at Christy, his eyes bright, black, and wide. ‘Fucking coppers. Again. You’d better get out and stay with us.’
Christy scrabbled towards Danny. The windows of the car billowed inwards. Sparks showered from every surface. Invisible things were crawling and scurrying over his skin. Danny led him to the edge of the fire where the other three stood with inky panicking eyes. Christy stared into Patrick’s face. ‘Where are they?’
Patrick pointed to the outskirts of the party. Through the drifting smoke and the acrid rippling air Christy could see the shapes of fancy dress policemen, stage policemen, television policemen, as they snaked through the edges of the crowd.
From the side of his mouth Phil said, ‘If they get any closer we chuck our personal in the fire.’ There was no need. Soon the police vanished like ghosts.
Christy looked once, looked again to make sure. ‘Where they gone?’
‘Vanished, Christy,’ Animal said. ‘Magic.’
Patrick said, ‘Yeah. It’s just a trick.’
Christy looked into the hot, waxy faces of the others. He knew they hadn’t done the acid. ‘Where are we?’
‘Party, Christy,’ Phil said.
‘Hospital, Christy,’ Danny said. ‘Used to be one.’
‘Yeah,’ Patrick said. ‘Used to be a loony bin.’
‘Where’s Dennis and Binny?’ Christy asked.
‘Round somewhere,’ Phil said.
‘Oh,’ Christy said. They were behind the scenes somewhere, directing the action.
Christy inhaled burning flesh. ‘What’s that smell?’
‘Burgers,’ Phil explained.
‘Which burgers?’
‘Yeah,’ Danny said. ‘Witch burgers. They’re burning witches.’
‘Be ducking a few of them later,’ Animal said. ‘In the pond over there. See if they float.’
Christy looked into the fire. The embers squirmed and churned like a million bloated maggots. He tried to see where the fire ended. He started patting his legs as if he was brushing dust from them; beating out the flames. He’d been spiked; now he was going to burn. He tugged Danny’s sleeve. ‘Why aren’t you going Amsterdam Danny?’
Danny was saved from having to invent an excuse. From the road came a roaring flood of light, moving. A woman in a leather jacket bumped past Christy. He heard her say, ‘Shit. Angels.’
A cluster of burning white lights like furious eyes approached. The air filled with the hot, specific smell of British motorbikes. The Windsor chapter of Hells Angels dismounted and nonchalantly, randomly, began hitting people with axes, wrenches, lengths of chain.
The five boys scattered towards the trees at the edge of the grounds. Christy ran behind a thick, dead oak. He knelt, shaking, grinding his forehead against the bark. He felt a hand paw at his back and heard a male voice yelp, ‘Fuck!’. It was Animal. His breath came in short tight gulps.
Christy looked at him. ‘Is it your brothers?’
Animal showed surprise. ‘F-f-fucksake.’
Honour satisfied, the bikers left. The remaining party-goers reappeared like lost Japanese soldiers coming out of the jungle. The five boys gathered again. Round the edge of the fire were three seats from an old bus. Animal, Christy and Danny claimed them.
Christy felt his seat rocking. He could hear squeaking. That was about what Phil said that time. The fire and the people and the sky all swooped backwards. He looked up into Phil’s sniggering face.
‘That’s him for another half-hour.’ Phil laughed.
Patrick looked down. ‘Get yourself up Christy.’
Cut yourself up Christy.
Christy uprighted himself. ‘Why aren’t you going Amsterdam Danny?’
No answer.
‘Why aren’t you going though, Danny?’
Animal rolled his eyes. ‘Fuck me. How many whys in Christy?’
‘Too many,’ Patrick said. ‘Give him a tip Danny.’
The sky whooshed again. Christy lay winded. ‘What’s these seats?’
‘You’re on a bus Christy,’ Patrick said. ‘That one Danny was saying about buying.’
They’d stuffed him full of acid. Now they’d stuck him on a bus to who knew where.
Phil’s face appeared above him. ‘We’re on the way to Swindon. See your mum.’
Why was she in Swindon? Mandeville was in Swindon. You think you’re sat on top of it; next thing you know it’s got you flat on your back. Cut yourself up.
Danny stood. ‘We should get in the car; warm up, get some kip.’
They left Christy on his back like a stranded sheep. He lay still while all the threads wove themselves together. He looked at the sky. The sky was black, without stars.
By dawn, he felt straight enough to know that something was being acted out; some performance or ritual. He wandered into the old hospital. In the first room two men were talking. One was telling the other a story.
‘I was with this bird and I was stoned and I was pissed and I was pissed and I was stoned. Then I threw up all over her.’
The second man, who had a mauve bruise covering one side of his face, looked uninterested. ‘Is that it?’
‘That’s all I can remember.’
He’d only been told the basic details.
The two men stared at Christy. He shuffled his feet. ‘I haven’t been inside a hospital lately.’
The one with the bruise said, ‘You might be again. Sooner than you think.’
In the car the others woke, aching and gluey-eyed, faces grey as cigarette ash, last night’s sweat itching under their clothes. They gathered among the burnt remains of the fire where they found Christy, poking the ashes with the toe of his boot and muttering.
On the way back to the island, Christy sat in the car with his eyes closed. Patrick told him later he was screaming all the way.
Danny dropped Patrick and Animal off first. Patrick leaned in at the window and spoke to Phil. ‘You should’ve come.’
‘I can’t,’ Phil said.
‘Under thumb you are,’ Patrick said.
‘What’s the matter?’ Phil asked. ‘Jealous?’
Too tired for a row, Danny spoke. ‘Have a good time. Bring us back some gear.’
‘Yeah, alright,’ Patrick said. ‘We’ll hollow Christy out. Smuggle it back that way.’
That afternoon, resigned, Christy packed his bag and took the bus to meet Patrick and Animal at Weymouth station. He couldn’t stop it; they were pulling the strings now. Phil’s dad was on duty at the station. He winked at Animal and said, ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.’
The 3.15 train to Waterloo drew a line across a spoiled land. Christy stared blankly at the fields, the allotments, the tight tidy terraces, the turned backs of towns. He watched the world as it looked the other way.
Animal leaned across and tapped Christy’s knee. ‘Say something Christy, for fuck’s sake.’
Christy looked at him, dull-eyed. ‘Where’s Phil?’
Animal laughed. ‘He’s with Les.’
‘Les?’
‘Les.’
‘I’ve never met her,’ Christy said.
Patrick rubbed his eyes, then spoke. ‘Doesn’t exist then, does she?’
Christy pressed his face against the man-made stubble of the seat and pretended to fall asleep. At Liverpool Street they joined the second train. Christy watched grey, flat Essex passing.

A blood-orange sun rose as they arrived at Amsterdam’s Centraal station; big, clean half-sister of St Pancras. The city looked to Christy like it should stink of fish. The three of them stood looking at a map on the wall. It showed the streets of the city spreading out like the threads of a web.
Christy sensed a shape and smell behind him. He turned to see a man in his thirties with a thick black beard, greasy back-combed hair, and a boxer’s face, beaten but suspicious still. Around the armpits of his ancient black jacket were concentric dry sweat stains like the rings in the trunk of a tree.
His accent was part-German, part-Irish. ‘Alright lads? After a hotel? Cheapo, cheapo.’
Christy looked him up and down. ‘How did you know we’re English?’
The man looked at Animal and Patrick and smiled. ‘Just a guess.’
How had they arranged that?
They followed the hotel tout into the city. As he led them down Damrak he told how he’d previously worked in a pornographic bookshop in Berlin. He could say, ‘Gentlemen, this isn’t a library,’ in seven languages.
They turned left into the red-light district. On the corner was a busker, lighting a cigarette between songs. Christy saw the tout make eye contact with the busker. The busker began playing the chords to ‘Wild Thing.’
Animal said, ‘Wonder how the Wildman is.’
Patrick laughed. ‘Yeah. What was that rumour about him again? I forget now.’
‘Oh that,’ Animal said, looking sideways at Christy. ‘Apparently his dad topped himself.’
Patrick smiled. ‘Not surprised with a son like that.’
The tout smiled. Even he knew.
He led them past shop windows full of latex genitalia and magazines showing people with bored, pasty, grunting faces, fucking for a living. They stopped in front of a tall, narrow, sand-coloured building on Warmoesstraat. The tout rang the bell. A fat balding man answered. His nose was pockmarked. At the corner of his mouth was dry brown spit. A half-moon of hairy white gut showed at the top of his trousers where his tee-shirt ended.
The tout spoke. ‘Three more.’
The fat man nodded and led the guests into a small reception room furnished with plastic garden chairs. Christy stood waiting for his punishment, waiting for the coming blows.

Chapter 28

WILLSON
At Conrad’s the heavy fathers were circling. Potter, Mandeville and Lenehan had been in the office since 7.30 a.m. deciding on the order and manner of interrogation. Then Mandeville installed himself in the kennel and began the process.
Ron was first. Afterwards he walked up to Christy at the counter. ‘You’re next mate. He said to knock and go in.’
‘Shit.’ As he walked towards the kennel Christy turned back to Ron. ‘Any advice?’
‘Yeah,’ Ron said. ‘Dick Potter before Potter dicks you.’
Mandeville offered Christy a seat. He got the pleasantries out of the way, then he started poking around inside Christy’s mind. ‘Part of the reason I’m here today is about morale. About whether people feel valued.’ He looked at his list of names. ‘Do you feel valued Christy?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, Mr Potter tells me you haven’t been fully yourself lately; anxious, off sick quite often. And apparently there was some confusion over your payrise last month.’
‘Confusion?’
‘Happy now though, I take it? Managing financially and so on?’
‘Suppose so.’
‘Quite some responsibility you’ve got. Cashing up. The invoices. I could understand you feeling a bit resentful. Over money.’
Christy frowned.
‘Coping okay though? Up-to-date with the invoices and so on? None going missing or anything like that?’ Mandeville leaned back in his chair and formed a steeple with his fingers.
Christy clenched his toes and thought of the growing pile of papery mush in the gap between the toilets and next door.
Mandeville counted to thirty. ‘How did you feel about the Ken business? Us having to let him go?’
‘Surprised.’
‘We expect a bit of that to happen. The odd bag of cement split on purpose, people being a bit generous about offcuts for the price of a pint. But then I suppose you know all about that anyway.’
‘No.’
‘More chance for that in the yard really. Must grate a bit doesn’t it? The others getting a few perks and nothing for you.’
‘Sorry, I don’t know what you’re on about.’
Mandeville ignored Christy’s response. ‘Mr Lenehan and I have evidence that a disturbing amount of stock and cash has been vanishing over the last year or so.’ He paused, looked at Christy, and looked away. ‘Since last summer actually.’
Inside Christy, one feeling began turning into another.
‘We’re keeping an open mind,’ Mandeville said. ‘But I’d like to ask you about the process when you cash up.’
‘When me or Bernie cash up.’
‘Yes. Either or both. Who potentially has access to the cash drawer?’
‘Well, anyone could get in there during the day. If me and Bernie weren’t about and the key got left in it.’
‘Let’s stick with the normal routine for now. Mostly it would be you and Bernie who had access?’
Christy tried to think. ‘Once we’ve cashed up Potter takes the money up the night safe. Mr Potter.’
‘We’ve been doing spot-checks. On seven of the days checked, the takings were adrift. According to Mr Potter, on three of those days you cashed up alone. At this stage I’m just pointing out that the opportunity was there.’
The unfamiliar feeling was vibrating through Christy again. He still couldn’t name it. ‘You think I took that money? You cunt.’
Mandeville looked at Christy, deadpan, judging. Then he allowed himself to appear surprised. ‘I don’t think you took that money. No.’
‘I’ve had fucking nothing me. Nothing off nobody. Ever.’
‘I’m not accusing you Christy.’
There was a silence.
‘Is that it?’ Christy asked.
‘Yes.’
Christy stepped towards the door.
Mandeville spoke. ‘Cross?’
Christy turned. ‘Cross? I’m fucking livid.’
Mandeville raised a hand, in charge again. ‘If you’d done anything wrong I don’t think you’d be this angry. Of course, it’s never that simple.’
As Christy walked across the loading bay, Potter stepped out from the main office. ‘Alright Christy? You were in there a long time.’
Christy wanted to kick Potter’s face until it was just meat.

Mandeville and Lenehan were in the kennel again. Without Potter. Like dogs detecting coming thunder, Christy, Vince and the others sensed something was about to happen. They hung around outside the loading bay. Christy bit his nails. ‘I hate all this. Not knowing what’s going on. Scares the shit out of me.’
‘Don’t be daft,’ Vince said. ‘They’ve got nothing on us lot.’
‘I reckon either Steve or Potter’s favourite,’ Ron said. ‘Hands in the till up to their armpits.’
‘Besides,’ Vince said, ‘if they were doing one of us they’d probably have the police here in case we kicked off like Ken that time.’
Steve arrived and took over from Bernie on the counter. He answered Bernie’s puzzled look with a cryptic, ‘Better here, out of the way for a bit.’
At 10.30 Mandeville stepped out of the kennel and walked over to Christy. The group made a late attempt to look busy. Mandeville looked at Christy. Christy’s insides churned. ‘Has Steve arrived yet?’ Mandeville asked.
Bernie answered for Christy. Mandeville went to fetch Steve. As Mandeville walked away Ron rubbed his hands. ‘Excellent. They’re doing both of them.’
Mandeville reappeared with a smiling Steve. Lenehan joined them. Mandeville told Bernie to cover the counter. Bernie pulled a face like a child being sent to bed early. The three suits walked into the main office. Twenty minutes later they came out with the sacked Potter. They shepherded him across the yard and stood over him silently as he emptied his belongings from the company car and handed over the keys.
Later, once busy important acting manager Steve had broken the news, Christy asked Vince exactly what they meant by maladministration.
‘It means Potter’s a greedy, thieving twat,’ Vince explained.

Chapter 27

WILLSON
Four Thursdays in August.
Christy sat calculating and recalculating. He tried it as a monthly figure. He tried it as a yearly figure. He tried it as a percentage. It still worked out as a payrise of £1.50 per week. He stared at the sign on Potter’s desk which said you didn’t have to be mad to work there.
Potter went on. ‘It’s to show how much we appreciate the work you do.’
He leaned forward. ‘Listen. To be honest I’ve pushed the boat out a bit, come up with something extra. So keep it under your hat. Avoids any bad feeling.’
Christy sat tasting the sense of being singled out. He looked past Potter’s head. In the yard Ron, Vince, and Ken’s replacement Graham, were shovelling sand. They’d already been in with Potter. Christy looked past them to the arc of graffiti on the dog food factory wall, there as it always would be, like a black rainbow of disappointment.

Danny had enjoyed it to begin with, making his visits, driving round Weymouth and Portland, freewheeling, disengaged. But everything fossilised into routine. Moments repeated like scenery in a cheap cartoon.
He was on the usual loop. He dropped a quarter of the homegrown off to Terry at the Mudhut. He met with Dave and Max in the Pilot and handed over thirty magic mushrooms.
He walked into the W twins’ bedroom. In the room Fred sat squinting at a picture of Samuel Beckett and shaking his head. Ed handed Danny one of the badges they were giving away with the next edition of the fanzine. It read; ‘We put the escape in seascape.’
They chatted for a while. Danny handed over the two eighths and stood to leave.
Fred coughed and stood up. He looked at Danny’s hand on the doorknob. ‘Listen. We’ve been thinking lately, we could do with a permanent drummer.’ He paused. ‘We’ve met this bloke Ben. He’s not brilliant but he’s into just being in the one band.’
Danny shrugged. ‘Fair enough.’
‘Stay a bit if you want,’ Ed said.
‘Better go. People to see.’
‘Busy boy.’
‘I know. I might as well have a fucking milkround.’
He left. He drove on towards Linda’s place, wondering what it is that makes repetition bearable.

Vince and Christy were sat on the loft insulation, eating. Vince lifted a blue-black chip and tossed it towards the bin. ‘How you get on last week in with Potter?’
‘About what I expected.’
‘How much?’
‘Eh?’ Christy fished among the bits of batter.
‘How much you on then?’ Vince asked.
‘Same as you probably.’
‘How much you reckon I’m on?’
Christy shrugged. Vince told him. Christy sat with a chip hanging sadly, an inch from his mouth. He put the chips aside.
‘Fuck me. Your face,’ Vince said.
‘That’s three quid more than me,’ Christy complained. ‘Potter said he’d managed something extra. And not to say anything.’
‘He always says that,’ Vince explained. ‘The world’s not like it says it is Christy. If you’ve not learnt that you’re in for some fucking shocks.’
Christy spent until four o’clock with a feeling he didn’t recognise vibrating through him. At four he went in to see Potter. Christy looked at his hands in his lap. The ends of his fingers were nicotine-brown and chewed to shreds.
‘I’ve found out what everyone else gets.’
‘Oh?’
‘I think I should get the same as Vince. I do all the invoices. And serve. And cash up. Vince just loads and sweeps up.’
Potter spread his hands. ‘Christy mate. No can do. Sorry. It’s budgets. Swindon won’t wear it. Especially not with your sick record lately.’
‘Is that final?’
‘Afraid so.’
Christy felt his mouth twisting. ‘That’s unfair in my book.’
‘Nobody’s interested in your book Christy.’
‘Can I hand in me notice then?’
Potter put down his pen, licked his front teeth. ‘Well let’s not go mad eh?’ He tapped his fingers on the desk. ‘Can you give us a sec? I’ll make a quick call.’
Christy waited in the yard, smoking. Potter phoned his wife and asked her what was for tea. He called Christy back in. Potter smiled. ‘Had a word with Swindon. I’ve got the okay to put you on the same as Vince. Alright?’
‘Alright.’ Christy turned and made for the door.
Potter spoke. ‘Christy?’
‘Yeah?’
‘A stroke like this won’t work twice.’

Mandeville was back.
Christy, jittery, leaned on the counter. ‘What’s the story with them three?’
‘Don’t know,’ Bernie said. ‘Something’s up.’
Mandeville, Potter, and the area accountant Lenehan, had locked the office door.
‘I think we could be looking at everybody,’ Mandeville said.
Potter sat up straight. ‘Everybody?’
‘Not you, obviously.’
‘But everybody? Might be better to stick to a couple. Gee up the others.’
Lenehan lit a cigarette. ‘Any likely candidates?’
‘Ron almost certainly,’ Potter said. ‘Fucking waste of space.’
‘Vince?’
‘Dense Vince? Wouldn’t’ve thought so. Actually, Christy maybe. Soppy sod.’
‘Too soppy though?’ Mandeville asked.
‘I don’t know so much. You’d be surprised what I’ve heard he gets up to.’

Chapter 26

PHIL
That night in the Merman with Danny, I couldn’t speak. I knew if I said anything he’d start making excuses and I’d end up smacking him. From then on I was just along for the ride. I’d had something good and special and it had fucked up. I was going to have to manage with the same things as other people. That’s when I started going out with Les. I said to Paul how it felt like I was getting cheated out of what I deserved. He said I wasn’t the first and I wouldn’t be the last.
We done the recording Bank Holiday Monday. That was another Danny Sharky idea dead on arrival. A bloke Paul knew run the studio. It wasn’t his proper job. He mended tellies. It was over the chip-shop in Turton Street, up the stairs and behind a padded door. Everything stunk of chip-fat.
Christy come too. I asked him. You can’t just leave people behind. He was edging his way back by then. He’d turn up at the pub around ten, sit on his own with his nose in an Agatha Christie, drink five pints then go home. I used to call across to him; ‘You worked out who done it yet?’ He’d look up but he wouldn’t say nothing; not for the first few weeks. I suppose it was me who got him back into things really. I feel bad about it now but I meant well by it.
The bloke talked us out of taping the whole set in three hours and we just done three songs. The last half hour we squeezed into the control room while the bloke mixed down the tracks. Eventually he played them back. We just sounded like kids. There was no getting round it. We were shit.
I sat there holding me head. I could feel the band falling in half, me and Patrick down one side, Danny and Animal down the other. It wasn’t about who liked who, it was about who knew when they were beaten and who didn’t.
What with all the bollocks in the band and that, I couldn’t fancy Amsterdam when it come to it. It clashed with Les’s eighteenth but that was an excuse pretty much. Danny didn’t say why he changed his mind about going but I reckon it was because The Shakespeare Monkees had a gig on that weekend. Lot of good it done him in the end.

Chapter 25

DANNY
I barely ever had a punt. I knew if I got into it I’d never stop. It was too much my thing; all the looking forward of it.
Middle of July I had two pound fifty as a forecast on Lot’s Wife and Memory Boy. 20-1. Don’t know what made me do it. Going by their form they wouldn’t’ve won a race if you’d put them on roller-skates and tied them to the lure with elastic.
Me dad found out. I had it on at Ladbrokes in Weymouth. I didn’t think he knew anyone who worked there. He took me into the back room of the shop and went bananas. ‘What you playing at you silly little prat?’
I made out I didn’t know what he was on about.
‘That punt. Don’t lie to me Danny.’
‘No harm done,’ I said.
‘No harm done? Drawing attention to yourself like that. I must’ve been mad starting you here.’
I said, ‘Drawing attention? How?’
‘I seen that Trevor in Weymouth. The manager from Ladbrokes. Saying it’s amazing how quick they grow up. Before you know it they’re eighteen. Sarcastic fucker. What am I supposed to say to that?’
‘I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘Pleased? You could’ve lost me my job you daft sod.’
I said, ‘Good punt though.’ I nearly had him then. This look crossed his face like he wanted to say, ‘I know. Result or what?’ But he was like someone running for a bus and seeing it pull away. He couldn’t stop and lose face.
‘I’m serious Danny. You’ve got to grow up sometime. Can’t go on forever trying to be in three places at once.’
I knew what that meant. December was rolling towards me like the end of the world. Eighteen and legal and fucking trapped.
And all because of that one random bit of luck, I ended up doing one good thing, and one shit thing.
I’d been thinking about coming out the syndicate ever since I’d started seeing Olly again. I felt a bit of a cheeky cunt just dropping round after so long but he didn’t seem to mind. He just said, ‘I’m always going to be here.’ With anyone else that’d sound to me like they’d given up. But Olly sounded proud of it and I couldn’t knock him for it.
His plants were going berserk. No way could he’ve got through it all himself. I’d already offered to take it off him sale or return. But with the punt, plus my share of the syndicate kitty I could pay upfront.
Christy’s bad trip was the main reason I wanted out. I thought we were going to end up killing the silly twat. I didn’t want another one hung round me neck. You want to get right away from trouble like that, before or after.
I went round just after Henge to take him his sleeping bag. He wouldn’t let me in. He looked scared shitless. He just opened the door a crack and stuck his hand out to get the sleeping bag. His first two fingers were the colour of stewed tea from where he’d been chain-smoking.
The night I baled out we went up Dunmore for another lot of blues. It was Patrick’s turn to drive. He picked me and Phil up in the Square, drove round the roundabout and headed straight back towards Weymouth. I said, ‘What about Christy?’
Patrick said, ‘I phoned him and said why not lay off the dealing for a bit. Just be like a sleeping partner.’
It seemed fair enough, the state Christy was in. And he’d never been any cop. Me and Phil even had a bet on that he wouldn’t shift those sixteenths by himself at Henge. I said to Patrick, ‘Probably do him good.’
He looked blank and shrugged. ‘Who cares? I just don’t want a loser like that hanging round me arse like a shitty nappy. Plus, imagine a nutty cunt like that getting pulled by the D.S. He’d crumble guaranteed.’
Halfway to Dorchester Phil said, ‘Christy still could’ve come up for a session. Didn’t he fancy it?’
Animal and Patrick started pissing themselves. They could hardly speak. Patrick said how he’d phoned Christy and told him to wait at the top of Mallams at seven o’clock. ‘Stupid twat’ll probably stand there all night.’
He could be a cruel fucker and I was getting sick of it. When we got to Dunmore Binny was telling us how his eyes were getting worse but the optician couldn’t give him any thicker glasses. Patrick said, ‘Yeah. Not without the weight of the lenses snapping your neck.’
All the way back I practised how I’d say I was stopping. I kept missing me moment. I blurted it out just as I got dropped off. I walked away before anyone could argue.
So some good come out of it. But then, if it wasn’t for the money I’d’ve never suggested the recording. And I wouldn’t’ve ended up being the one to shit on Phil. And maybe we could’ve kept things together a bit longer.
Animal phoned the night after I pulled out of the syndicate. I was expecting him to have a go at me, but he never. He just said for us to meet in the Gloucester Bars. Him and Patrick were there, but no Phil. Patrick handed me an envelope with a fifth of the kitty plus a tenner for carrying Christy. I pulled a tenner out and got a round.
Patrick said, ‘Fucking right as well.’ Other than that he never give any sign he was pissed off.
Animal took his pint and said, ‘It’s about Phil. He’s not hacking it.’
I said, ‘He’s always shifted his share.’
‘The band I mean. He’s been playing like a chimp lately.’
Patrick passed round his fags. ‘We were thinking maybe he could swap to bass and us just have Animal on guitar.’
‘He won’t like that,’ I said. ‘He’ll probably jump under a bus.’
‘I don’t know. He seems a bit half-arsed about it all lately.’ Animal paused and looked at me. ‘But then...’
I said, ‘But then what?’
Patrick jumped in. ‘Well. Exactly how many bands are you in this week? It’s like you’re always a fagpaper away from getting bored and moving on.’
It was bollocks really. Round then the only other band I was playing for was The Shakespeare Monkees. But I was getting prodded into a corner. By then I’d started thinking twice before I’d let a daydream out of the bag in case some twat stamped on it. I wouldn’t’ve said about it otherwise but I had to put me money where me mouth was. In the previous Milk, Milk, Lemonade, Fred had interviewed The Desperate Bicycles. Vic out of The Pigs had got their phone number. The headline was typical twins; ‘We interview The Desperate Bikes. By phone. Mmm. Big-time!’ The Bikes were saying how ‘Smokescreen’ only cost £150 to put out.
I said how we could maybe put a tape out ourselves. I’d stump up for the recording and everyone could pay me back a bit each week. Animal was right into it but Patrick just looked at me lopsided and said, ‘We ought to call you Billy Bullshit. How are things on Fantasy Island?’ Wanker.
I talked him round. And while I wasn’t looking he convinced me about Phil. He talked me into it that just one of us should tell him. He said if we were all there it’d look like we were rubbing it in. And apparently I was the mug to do it. It’d be better coming from me seeing as I’d known him longest. I could soften him up by saying about the recording idea at the same time. Phil’d understand if I said how it’d be better to go down on tape as a good bassist than as a guitarist fucking up.
At least I told him to his face. I was shitting myself. There was always stuff flying about but it was always mental stuff; atmospheres and loyalties and that. But Phil was straighter than that. Do him a wrong turn and you got the feeling he wouldn’t be above punching the living piss out of you.
But he never. I got him down the Merman. I got out all I had to say in this one breath that went on for ages. He didn’t say anything. I don’t mean anything much. I mean he didn’t say anything. He sat there looking at me with his mouth clamped shut. I kept talking at him but he just sat there. I wish he had hit me really; get it over with. I couldn’t stand it. In the end I just walked out.

Chapter 24

WILLSON
They arrived at Stonehenge the weekend after Father’s Day. People kept telling them they’d missed the Solstice. That was nothing; they’d missed A.T.V. The five were some of the few weekenders around on the site. Mostly, the hard-core cases remained, coming down.
As they pulled onto the site four kids ran straight at the Wartburg. Danny braked. He wound down the window, shouted at the closest boy. ‘I could’ve killed you then, you twat.’
The boy leaned in at the window. His neck was marbled with dirt. ‘Any trips?’ he asked.
Danny laughed, shocked. He managed to produce the standard answer. ‘Don’t know what you’re on about, mate.’
‘I’m selling, not buying. Question marks. One fifty. It’s only them and unicorns on the site and the unicorns are shit.’
Danny’s mouth opened and closed. He turned and looked at the others. Patrick leaned forward. ‘Tell him to fuck off and come back when he’s moved up to big school.’
The boy leaned in at the window again. ‘Alright, fuck you then. Your loss.’ He ran off with his friends. None of them looked a day over twelve.
Danny parked the car between a double-decker bus and a purple 1950’s ambulance. ‘Handy,’ he said, taking the keys out of the ignition. ‘You never know when you might need an ambulance.’
Within the fringe of battered vans and buses was a ragged selection of tents and shelters. Around small camp-fires the ragged tents’ ragged owners sat, talking vacantly. The five found a space and pitched the tent.
Christy paused from banging in a tent peg and straightened himself. ‘It’s like in those Robin Hood films,’ he said, smiling.
Animal looked at him. ‘I don’t know why you bother doing gear. You’re fucking weird enough without it.’
With the tent pitched they went to check out the rest of the site. Through the centre of the tents ran a clear pathway. At either side of this were makeshift stalls selling headshop tat. The path led to the stones, and a small stage of scaffolding and tarpaulin. Above the stage was a banner saying; ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.’
They stopped near the stage. Phil, watching the people milling past, lowered his voice. ‘Some fucking states here. You can tell the ones who’ve been here from the start.’
‘I know,’ Danny said. ‘Cut their heads off and count the rings of dirt.’
‘We ought to start sorting out some chemicals,’ Patrick said.
Animal said, ‘Could’ve fucking had some back then if you hadn’t opened your mouth.’
‘Yeah, but they were kids, Animal.’
On the outskirts of one of the fireside groups Christy smiled nervously at the strangers beside him. He turned to Phil. ‘Do you reckon it’s alright to skin up?’
Animal gave him a look. ‘Don’t be a wanker Christy. Course. Have you seen a copper since we got here?’
‘Well, not uniform, no.’
A woman in her thirties wearing Wellington boots, crouched down beside Christy. Christy thought about running. The woman spoke quietly. ‘Sulphate?’
Patrick, in charge as ever, said, ‘Any trips about?’
‘Unicorns.’
Phil looked at Patrick, thinking, I fucking told you.
Patrick looked at Phil. ‘Alright then, bollocks. What we having? Three grammes of sulph between us?’
The woman ambled off towards the purple ambulance. Christy could see her talking to a slight figure. Reaching into his jacket pocket, the slight figure turned so that Christy got a sideways view. It was the boy with the marbled neck.

None of them slept; they just fell silent eventually. Christy lay on his back squinting up at the pattern made by the mould and the dew on the roof of the tent. The sun was coming up and Christy was coming down. The inside of the tent was becoming unbearably hot. Sweat poured from him. He took off his jacket and placed it under his head. His money was in the top left pocket. Repeatedly, he touched it to check that it was still there. Patrick said something to Phil. Christy didn’t catch what it was. Then he heard Phil say, ‘So tight, his balls squeak when he walks.’
Christy sat up, picked up his jacket. ‘Think I’ll see if I can shift these sixteenths.’ He’d come with a quarter of personal and a quarter in sixteenths to sell.
‘Leave your jacket Christy, you’ll be sweating your bollocks off,’ Animal said.
‘Yeah, don’t you trust us Christy?’ Patrick asked.
Christy left his jacket. As he stepped from the tent he heard Phil and Danny’s voices. ‘No need to guess where his money is.’
‘I know.’
‘What do you reckon to what I was saying?’
‘Alright. Call it two quid.’
Only the speedfreaks and acidheads were around, the hardened cases who’d fallen out of time. Casualties shuffled through the debris of the previous night like mourners walking away from a burial. Christy paused in front of the stage, scratched himself. A short, stocky woman with home-made tattoos on her arms was collecting rubbish around his feet, and placing it in a black bin liner. She looked at him. ‘Either help tidy things up or get out the way so other people can.’
Christy moved ten paces to the right and stood slack jawed, staring out over the plain. A man of about twenty five was walking towards him. Christy thought of the sixteenths. The man spoke. ‘What’s up? Catching flies?’
Christy retreated to the tent. He lifted the flap.
Phil looked up. ‘How did you get on?’
‘No luck.’
Phil laughed. Danny handed him two pound notes. Christy would check his pockets when he got the chance.

Saturday afternoon, Christy, Phil and Animal lay in the tent listening to the throbathwackathrob of the police helicopter, hovering over the site, just checking. The flap of the tent parted. The three lay blinking at the wedge of white light. Patrick and Danny crawled in.
‘Been shopping,’ Danny said, tossing a bag of dexedrine onto the groundsheet.
Phil picked up the bag and checked for the lettering. ‘Where you get these?’
‘The smack tent.’
‘Smack tent?’ Christy asked.
Patrick explained. ‘Met these smackheads. They’ve asked us round for a session if we fancy it.’

There were three of them. All had that vile scaghead scratch and sniff about them. Pawing at their faces, talking through their noses, their movements were loose and slow, but without clumsiness. One had a blue dot tattooed between his eyebrows. His fingernails were black. He did most of the talking. The thin one didn’t have much to say, just lay there with his head propped up on one elbow. Sometimes he’d scratch his nose, but mostly he just lay there.
The third one didn’t seem to fit. As the five walked into the tent, he looked up from the joint he was rolling and said, ‘If eighty per cent of your body’s made of water, how come you don’t dissolve when you’re in the sea?’
The other two looked at their visitors and rolled their eyes, as if to say, ‘Ignore him; he’s a twat.’
Christy handed over the sixteenths. They gave him cost, plus a bit over, as a favour pretty much, they told him. There was something about the even, unemphatic tone of everything they said which made it impossible for Christy to judge what they meant. He didn’t trust them.
They talked about the festival. Dotface said, ‘Good band on later; LSD 25.’
Christy said, ‘Why 25?’
‘There’s twenty five of them. Don’t half kick up a fucking din.’
Christy thought he was serious. Everyone else was in fits. It was Dunmore all over again. They had only one interest.
Phil asked what they did for jobs. They looked at each other, puzzled. The irritating one returned the question. When Patrick said he was on the print, the dullness in Dotface’s eyes seemed to flick aside momentarily, like a second eyelid.
‘Would you be able to run up a print job without anyone noticing?’
Patrick said that it was possible in theory.
Dotface began spinning the idea of Patrick printing up batches of acid tabs at work; sheets of them, thousands of them. Patrick lapped it up. ‘So, what? You’d add the acid after, then?’
‘Yeah. Something like that.’ Dotface glanced at the thin one and smiled.
Christy knew. It was just a scam. They would’ve sold the blank tabs, no acid on them. Dennis had said about it once. You’d bowl up at some big festival, Reading say, knock out as many tabs as you could, as quickly as you could, and get out before anybody had a chance to realise they were never coming up. And if you got caught with the lot, all you’d get done for would be going equipped to deceive.
Sensing that the idea wasn’t a runner, Dotface changed the subject. ‘Had any decent chemicals yet?’
‘Some sulph last night,’ Danny said.
‘Yeah? Who off?’
‘Some little kid. Freaked me out a bit.’
‘That’ll be Mal. He’s a tricky little cunt.’
‘How do you mean, tricky?’
‘He has wraps in three pockets. One’s got the proper kit in, one’s got a bit of sulph cut with ground up Sudafed, one’s got foot powder. He susses you out and you get what he can get away with.’
Dotface paused and fished out a polythene bag. ‘Any of you lot want any microdots for tonight?’
Christy was sat facing Animal. He pulled a warning face at him but Animal didn’t even notice.
The annoying one said, ‘I done one last night and I was rolling about in the mud.’ This was a recommendation. They decided to have one each.
Back at their own tent, the five discussed the smackheads.
‘Notice that dot he had on his forehead?’ Phil asked. ‘They do that in Borstal with boot polish. Fucking mental.’
‘I thought he was advertising,’ Patrick said. ‘Little picture of a microdot, that was. Pays to advertise.’
‘I didn’t like them,’ Christy said. ‘That with them wanting you to print up those dodgy trips.’
‘They’re desperate, Christy,’ Patrick said. ‘They’ve got expensive hobbies.’
‘They were alright,’ Danny said. ‘Apart from the cosmic twat in the waistcoat. You could tell the other two didn’t like him.’
‘Yeah,’ Animal said. ‘There’s always one.’ He was looking straight at Christy.
They did a microdot each. Christy wasn’t convinced. What were they doing getting trips off chancers like that? He wasn’t going to sit there dead straight all night. He did the crumbs of the sulphate and six dexedrine as well.
Danny looked at Christy. ‘Fuck me. When you come up you aren’t half going to know about it.’
They went and sat near the stones near the stage and waited as the sun went down. Irritably, Danny said, ‘I’m not getting fuck all off this.’
‘Me neither.’
‘Nor me.’
‘No.’
‘Not sure. Might be the speed.’
‘Yeah. You fucking hog.’
Christy felt his stomach cramps turning into butterflies. In the fading light the clouds started bubbling, rolling across the sky. Christy looked into Danny’s face. He could see the pores opening and closing. Why weren’t the others coming up?
Dennis was right that time when he said tripping was like being in a secret society where only you know who else is in on it. Christy began to notice the secret signs. He spotted Phil doing a double-take, looking curiously at the end of his cigarette. He noticed Danny and Animal lapsing into silence. To nobody, for no apparent reason, Patrick said, ‘Yeah. Probably.’
Danny stood up and stretched his arms out. ‘Anyone fancy a wander?’ Everybody smiled. They all knew then.
They worked their way to the heart of the crowd in the middle of the stones. It was intense but Christy was handling it. Time fell to bits. There were people with flaming torches, ready for a burning. Flames like streamers fluttered behind them. The stones were haloed yellow. LSD 25 played. The crowd danced, treading water. Each dancer left ghost snapshots of themselves behind with every movement. The five stood, trembling, touching each other occasionally to make sure they were still there.
Christy wandered off for a piss against the side of somebody’s van. The side of the van was rippling like molten enamel. He could hear music; not the band, but music coming from nowhere, like the wind in tune. He stood, looking and listening.
He returned to the crowd. People were wearing warpaint like Red Indians; He didn’t mind. Animal, Danny, Phil and Patrick had sat down. Their faces were longer, pointed. He rejoined them. They sat still forever with the world shimmering and humming around them.

Everybody had peaked. They started walking back to the tent. Red lines of light darted along the ground like night photos of speeding cars. In the sky the clouds were stacked up like the steps on a pyramid. The crowds parted like fishes either side of the five. The moon was white and blurry like a torch under bedsheets.
Over to the left, between the tents, someone was shouting. Christy looked over. A man in a leather jacket was holding the kid with the dirty neck, by the dirty throat. He was punching him in the face again and again, shouting, ‘I’ll give you peace and love you cunt!’
Christy swerved his mind away from what he saw, and back to Phil and the others. Animal and Phil were talking about the Wildman of Bonio, how he got knocked down by a milkfloat when he was seven and had never been the same again. Patrick said, ‘He sounds a right state.’
Animal said, ‘He is. You know that rumour about his old man don’t you?’
Patrick said, ‘Yeah. Not surprised with a son like that.’ He looked at Christy.
‘Just going for a piss a minute,’ Christy said.
Phil said, ‘Yeah. Me too.’
They walked out beyond the edge of the tents and started pissing into the darkness. Christy listened to check that Phil had started. Then he ran. He was still pissing. His dick was flapping pale in the darkness. Piss was flying everywhere. He got it stuffed away after fifty yards.
Behind him he could hear Phil shouting to the others. ‘Jesus! Christy’s fucking freaked right out!’
Christy slowed slightly and turned his head. The other four were standing with their mouths open. He kept running. He looked again. They’d started running. He found it in him to run harder, faster, until he stopped feeling anything, as if his body had stopped being anything. There was no cover, nowhere to hide. Soon the others gave up. He saw them each drop back and stand bent over with their hands on their thighs.
He ran straight across the A303. He didn’t see the cars, he just heard the squealing of brakes. Soon he was off the open plain and was running through fields, farms he supposed. He pushed blindly through hedges. His scratched arms bled. He kept running.
Then the ground stoped underneath him. He dropped like he’d been shot. His ear hit the ground. There was a sour, damp smell in the ditch. His jeans were still wet with piss. He lay still, with his mind crumbling. The acid dug deeper, to a level below words, below memory, to where the past is part of the cells.
There were stones in the bottom of the ditch. Christy stuck some under his back so he wouldn’t sleep. He had to watch who was coming. He stayed there, not moving. The sun came up. Mist came down into the ditch like gas. He got up in case it was gas.
He crossed a field to a lane. There were a couple of houses dotted along the lane. The biggest house was set back up a curved drive. Christy crawled across the gravel in case anyone was listening.
He stood up in the porch. There was glass in the side of it. He could see himself. He flattened his hair with his hand. He rang the bell. A man came to the door. His hair was white, his cardigan was grey, his slippers were pink.
Christy spoke. ‘Can I come in and phone the police please? Two men from the festival just threatened to set their dogs on me. Up the lane there, a minute ago.’
The man looked at Christy. He said, ‘It’s six-thirty,’ and shut the door. The flap of the letterbox opened. ‘I’ll call the police and get them to deal with you. Wait at the end of the drive.’
Christy stood and waited. After about twenty minutes a police van appeared. It slowed as it approached down the lane. Christy waved and the van stopped. Two officers stepped out.
‘Are you the one we’ve had a phone call about?’
‘Yeah. There was two men up the lane. They said they’d kill me.’
The first policeman raised an eyebrow. ‘Do you know who they were?’
‘No.’
‘Any idea why they’d want to kill you?’
‘No. They were from the festival,’ Christy said, as if that explained everything.
‘You been up the festival?’
‘Yes.’
‘Describe these two blokes then.’
Christy made something up. The officers didn’t make any notes. Christy failed to make it sound like an afterthought when he said, ‘Probably safest if you give me a lift to Salisbury. That way they can’t get at me.’
The penny dropped. The officers looked at each other, then looked at Christy. The older one said, ‘We’re not running a fucking taxi service.’
‘You’re not allowed to swear at me.’
They got in the van. As the younger one shut the driver’s door he said, ‘Make yourself scarce, son.’
They drove away.
Christy started walking towards Salisbury. The lane narrowed, the hedges grew taller. There was talking in the hedges, but not loud enough to hear clearly. It was about him. Every second step he took there was a squeak. That was about what Phil had said.
He stopped. There was a van and a car, parked in a lay-by. There was a man sat in the van talking on a C.B. That was how things were being controlled. Christy walked back the way he came and stopped to work out what to do.
He decided to walk past quickly, make a mental note of the registration, and check who owned the vehicles later. He got level with the van. The man in the front was eating a sandwich. He looked round, straight at Christy. Christy ran. He kept running until he felt like everything was going to burst out through his ribs. They weren’t going to get him, he was going to make sure of that.

He knew he was getting near Salisbury; there were more houses and more people staring at him. In the centre of town he chose the third phonebox that he saw. He phoned three minicab firms at random from Yellow Pages. He ordered a cab from each, one to collect him at one end of the street, one at the other, and one at the phone box. He did ip dip in his head to choose which one he’d take. That way there’d be less chance they were in on it.
He took the middle one. The driver wound down the window when Christy got in. He checked where he was going. ‘Call it eight quid for cash.’
Christy was tempted to get out there and then. It was less than the fare quoted over the phone. Patrick and the others must have felt guilty and put in some money towards the fare. It was too late. They knew where he was. He lay down on the back seat and pulled a rug over his head.

Smelling like an animal, he let himself into the house. He went up to his room. Creeping up the stairs he could hear his mother in the front room. She was singing ‘Happy Days Are Here Again.’

Chapter 23

WILLSON
In the front pew on the right, in the Church of the Holy Ghost near the Borstal, Kev stood waiting. A drop of sweat rolled from his armpit to his waist. He glanced sideways at Arnie, the best man, relieved and embarrassed that he was there. He knew what people called him behind his back. Animal said behind Arnie’s back was the best place to be. Now, as ever, there was the desire to look behind him. He hadn’t come and wasn’t coming. Now more than ever, of all days. An effort at least, for once. The only address Kev’s mum had for his dad was a pub in St Paul’s where he collected his mail. He must’ve got the letter, surely. Perhaps he was ashamed. Perhaps he was getting off a coach in Weymouth, lighting the first cigarette for two years, steeling himself. Kev knew he’d have to sort it out for himself. Put things right. Get things right again. Fix things. He straightened his tie. He checked everything again. Left trouser pocket, keys to the flat. Keys to the flat. Inside left jacket pocket, money for drinks. The first one for everyone. People take advantage with a free bar. Inside right jacket pocket, the reservation for the Gloucester Hotel. One night. Honeymooning in Weymouth. Laugh if they want, it’s not easy. Kev looked at the flowers and the painted saints. He should’ve been there. You needed things you could depend on; this place, these saints, those old words, things repeating. A shame with the Latin going. Still bits of that, early on. Corpus Christi. Christy admitted once he thought Father Thomas was talking about the Eucharist, saying ‘Hope it’s crusty.’ Simpler then. Things changed. Didn’t bear thinking about. The need to turn round and see if Karen was coming was like an itch. But he wouldn’t. He knew the Maggot was behind him somewhere, dim but vicious, his wifebeater’s face fat with resentment. But Karen he knew he could depend on. She was sick every morning now. Once when he stayed over at the McClarens’ he’d seen her crouching over the toilet bowl. He saw someone in need of protection, saw no resentment in her eyes. She was sick every morning now, not just from the expected, but from something no longer spoken. That time on the beach, the first thing she said. There was a heavy clunk, and a wash of light at the edge of his field of vision. A sigh rolled from the back of the church and was sucked in by the organ as the Wedding March began. He could look now. She’d arrived. All in white with a bump at the front. He smiled at her, his eyes stinging. Worth the dog’s share of the pie to somebody at least. He mouthed the words, ‘Thank you.’ He thought later, it was strange the way he relaxed suddenly. Once the doubt was gone and the ritual started. They both knew the words. Up ladders, in old clothes, with paint in their hair, they’d gone through the ceremony night after night in the flat. ‘I do.’ Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I? Who wouldn’t? Within seconds, it seemed, they were kissing, both shaking. Four rows back, Patrick nudged Christy. He whispered, ‘Fucked if I’d trust Queenie with my ring.’ But Christy was away inside somewhere. Father Thomas saying hello to everybody on the way in. Kneel and do the usual. Stopped in front of him for ages. Nods down at the half -mast trousers. Smiles. Has there been a death in the family? In bed crying. Her tucking the sheets in. Jabbing and frowning. Looks away. Like she can’t think of anything. Says remember Jesus wants you to try and be brave like him. Bed again, trying to get an angel to come. Comes out wrong, like the thing Clair had. Troll. With wings. Rough bit in the corner just down from the ceiling. Staring and staring. Nothing. Thinking about him in a box, going bad. The congregation stood again. Patrick nudged Christy a second time. Christy stood. ‘Wake up Christy,’ Patrick said. ‘Thought you’d be up on all this bollocks.’ Kev and Karen had wanted to have the reception at the Con Club. Then Herman offered them the skittle alley of the Merman for free. It seemed right, like a goodbye. ‘Here we are again, then,’ Phil said. ‘Off our faces in the usual places.’ He shifted some glasses to make room on the table for the next round. ‘Nip out to the car again in a bit,’ Patrick suggested, lowering the tray. ‘Fuck that. I’m space age as it is.’ Kev reached them on his circuit. ‘Sorry there’s no disco, lads. Ed and Fred said they’d borrow the equipment from Deja Vu but they’ve had a falling out with the bloke.’ ‘Don’t worry about it,’ Animal said. ‘I can do without listening to “Hi Ho Silver Lining” all fucking night.’ ‘Laugh though, usually,’ Danny said. ‘Watching the wrinklies making tits of themselves.’ Kev turned without knowing why. ‘Dad’s here!’ His father stood silhouetted in the white light of the doorway to the skittle alley. No silence fell. Whippet-thin, the clothes hanging off him, people didn’t recognise him at first. Kev skirted round the guests and made his way to where his dad stood alone. He stopped a yard in front of him. ‘Sorry I’m late, Kev,’ his father said, as if they’d last spoken the week before. He held out his hand. They shook hands. Kevin felt the words drying and sticking to the roof of his mouth. He couldn’t ask why. ‘Long time no see.’ ‘I know,’ his dad said. ‘Anyway. Congratulations.’ ‘Are you still with the Saturday Girl?’ ‘No. She went. I’m in digs now.’ ‘You could come back.’ ‘I can’t, son. It’s hard to say. Difficult.’ He paused, looked at the floor. ‘This with the girl. Is it really what you want?’ ‘Course.’ ‘That’s good then. I was never much one for babies. They’re like strippers and circuses. Seen one, you’ve seen them all.’ ‘I just want a sensible life, Dad. Like you used to have.’ He wanted to be able to use the word ‘home’ again. ‘It isn’t simple Kev. Tidy as you might want things, it’s never...’ He coughed quietly. They looked at each other. ‘Anyway. Come and say hello to some friends of mine.’ Kev led his dad to the inside corner of the skittle alley. ‘You remember Phil and Christy. And this is Patrick and Danny. And, um, Animal.’ From the opposite side of the room, the Maggot started shouting. ‘Who the fuck’s he think he is?’ Kev’s mother grabbed the Maggot’s wrist. ‘Don’t.’ ‘Here goes, look,’ Phil said. ‘Might’ve known.’ ‘I’d better go and say something,’ Kev’s dad said. ‘Careful though. I’d better come too.’ Danny ground his cigarette out in a plate of cake. ‘That’s families for you. Bollocks, they are. Best off steering clear of all that shit.’ ‘What and end up like Queenie?’ Patrick asked. ‘What? A knob jockey?’ ‘No. Some sad, lost, old fucker.’ Animal leaned forward in his seat. ‘Danny’s right. Fucking nightmare. Look at my lot. You can’t fucking move, can’t breathe, can’t fucking...’ speak. Can’t speak. Can’t ever get rid of the stammer on the inside. Phil turned from watching the action across the room. ‘I wouldn’t mind it. A family. Nothing wrong with an ordinary life.’ Except what’s wrong with it. Can’t you have both? That and the other thing too. Animal turned to Christy. ‘What about you Christy? Nothing to say for yourself as per fucking usual.’ Father’s here. Clair calling from inside. Run, bent double. From the lawn to the coal bunker. Two shapes behind the frosty glass. Wait a bit. Wait again at the end of the hall. They’re in the front room. Crouch behind the storage heater. Ear against the wall. She’s talking to a man. Can’t hear properly. Why are they talking about the seaside? Finger jammed in one ear. Everything sounds like it’s underwater. Try not to dwell on the fact it’s a sin Christine. What? Go in. Father O’Brien sat in the armchair, waving a teaspoon about. Can smell him. Hello. It’s not him. Not him. She’s new. Sister Theresa. Hairy fat face. Catechism. Poking her nose in about people’s mums and dads. Not telling her anything. Nosey cunt. Christy had something of his own to say. It was in his throat. Too late, he rose from his seat. Kevin’s cousin Donna, fur-coated and saying her goodbyes, was in his way. She screamed and hit him. ‘That’ll never come out! You’re disgusting!’ The vomit was in the fur. The smell was everywhere.

Chapter 22

WILLSON
Danny opened the box. Everything was still there. He took out the trips, and the weight. He locked the box, replaced it in the crack in the rock, and walked back across Butts quarry, to where the dogs were tied to the bumper of the Wartburg. This was his safe place now, out near The Bill. He didn’t use the house anymore. He’d hidden a quarter under a loose floorboard in the spare room. When he went back the door was locked. It had been ever since.
He thought about the night before. It was progress, moving up to getting a weight at a time. At least they were moving forward. But not quickly enough for him.
He couldn’t take his eyes off it when Dennis gently placed the weight on the coffee table. It was a beautiful thing; roughly rectangular, black like Bournville, bowed like timber. It was partly wrapped in heavy unbleached cotton. The cloth reminded Danny of woodwork aprons.
Nervous, Christy asked, ‘Should we cut it up here?’
Dennis smiled. ‘I wouldn’t bother. You could put that lot through a blender, it wouldn’t do you any good if you got pulled.’
Later Binny was telling them how he’d managed to get himself admitted to the local psychiatric hospital so he could sample the medication. Danny, only half-listening, noticed Dennis inspecting a plastic bag containing some small paper squares. ‘What’s that? Somebody shrunk your stamp collection?’
‘Eh?’
‘Nothing.’
Dennis fished out a tab and handed it to Danny. On one face of the tab was a tiny cartoon drawing of a hinged box; a treasure chest or luggage trunk.
‘Acid.’
Danny felt a smile stretch across his face. ‘Yeah? Any good?’
The others were listening too, by then.
‘Yeah,’ Dennis said. ‘More of a holiday than any holiday. Impossible to describe though. Different for everyone. It’s like asking what it’s like to have someone else’s brain.’
Patrick rubbed his hands. ‘Looks like we’ll have to do some ourselves then.’
Danny said, ‘Not here I’m not doing it. I’m driving.’
Danny untied the dogs from the bumper and let them have their run. He sat in the driver’s seat, skinned up, and began splitting the weight. There was something about the place, about being there with the dogs every morning, which let him be still. He wasn’t sure if he liked it.
Without knowing why, he found himself thinking of Olly. He saw him in the greenhouse, looking after the plants. He saw him on the floor in the front room, playing Snap with the kids. He felt he should get back in touch.
He took one last draw, stubbed the roach, emptied the ashtray and bagged the gear. He went back to the rock, put the bulk of his share in the box, and returned the box to its hiding place. Returning to the car, he stopped to watch the dogs chasing in circles. He called them, walked on. You couldn’t afford to stand still. You had to keep moving, towards the next good thing, the gig tonight, the party after, doing the trips. And beyond that? Some escape attempt he couldn’t even imagine yet. There had to be somewhere to go, surely. He remembered Patrick’s last words to him the night before; ‘Don’t fuck off and come back three weeks later with a big grin on your face, will you?’ Fucking like to, Danny thought. Only not come back.

The Island of Dreams bingo hall, two doors up from the Merman, had once been the Majestic Cinema, and was still majestic, lower case, despite the frayed seats, the flaked paint. Eddie was topping up his Giro as a cleaner there. Fred got him the job having previously painted a mural of palm trees, beaches and waterfalls, for Tony the manager. Tony had said he wanted some cannibals with bones through their noses. Fred had refused. Ed asked Tony about hiring the place on a Saturday night for another Exploding Plastic Predictable event. Mistakenly anticipating a profit Tony insisted on promoting the gig himself.
In what were once the cheap seats, Animal and Patrick waited for Phil, Danny and Christy. Animal had been right that morning; three weeks and Christy had returned. All Christy ever did was go back.
In the carpark, Phil, Danny and Christy were sitting in the back of Terry’s mini, wishing it wasn’t a two door, wanting to just do the deal and get out. The dope went forwards, the cash went backwards. Terry and Mike from Doublethink oozed misplaced confidence. They thought it was a social thing.
‘What sort of stuff do you do then?’ Danny asked.
‘Quite reggaeish really, but new wavey too,’ Mike said.
‘Do you listen to much reggae then?’
‘Not really. I know what it’s like though.’
‘Sounds interesting anyway,’ Christy said, encouragingly.
‘Things are changing,’ Terry said. ‘That three chord shouty bloke’s stuff isn’t going anywhere.’
He turned to Mike. ‘It’s that realism, modernism split we were talking about.’
Bristling, Phil said, ‘Who’s this other band out of your lot?’
‘Our lot?’
‘Your lot.’ The posh lot.
‘They called themselves My Blue Peninsula but some oaf graffitied the posters for the gig so it read, My Blue Penis.’
Phil, Danny and Christy smirked.
Terry continued. ‘So at the last minute they’ve changed their name. To Daniel Dedooronronda! Brilliant isn’t it?’ He smiled.
‘Great,’ Danny said. He looked at Christy.
Christy lip-read the word ‘What?’, and shrugged.
Phil brushed the ash off his lap, leaned forward, ready to make their excuses.
‘You still working up the bakery Terry?’ Christy asked.
Phil sighed, sat back.
‘Yeah. Just temporarily. I’m taking a year out,’ Terry said.
‘How do you mean?’ Phil asked.
‘A year out. Between “A”s and Uni.’
‘Oh right. “A”s and Uni.’ He nudged Christy. ‘“A”s and Uni.’
‘Mm, “A”s and Uni.’
Danny nodded solemnly. ‘Yes. “A”s and Uni.’
‘Not sure yet though,’ Terry continued, oblivious. ‘Difficult thing choice, isn’t it?’
‘I’ll take your word for it,’ Phil said.
Terry turned to Mike. ‘As the man says, “Everything has been worked out except how to live.” N’est ce pas?’
Mike turned gamely to the tortured three. ‘What do you think of J.P.S.?’
‘Never touch them, mate,’ Danny said. ‘I’m a B & H man meself.’
With that he stood, reached forward, levered open the sun-roof and scrambled free. Phil and Christy followed, Christy shrugging, apologetic.
The three stood on the tarmac in the dusk, looking at each other.
‘Fucksake.’
‘I know.’
‘Wizard pot, what?’

Phil looked up from reading the running order of the bands. ‘What’s this?’ he asked Ed and Fred. ‘Plebs on first?’
Eddie winced.
‘I’m drumming for three of the first four bands, though,’ Danny complained. ‘I’ll be a fucking stretcher case.’
‘Well. Up to you, that is,’ Patrick said. ‘You’re the one who wants to be in three places at once.’
‘It’s because of the P.A. isn’t it?’ Phil said.
Eddie looked embarrassed. ‘What can you do?’
For once there was a decent P.A. It belonged to Doublethink. Terry’s dad, who owned the Music Mart in Weymouth, had bought it.
Richard Widmark’s Skidmarks were on first. Danny paced himself. No sense buckling yourself for some joke band. Their set of covers reflected Psychedelic Derek and Recurring Jeff’s obsession with 60’s garage psychedelia; ‘Psychotic Reaction’, ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night’, ‘96 Tears’, ‘I Wonder Where She Is Tonight’. As a concession to modernity they did a cover of ‘Flying Saucer Attack’ in honour of Poly Styrene, who, the previous week, had supposedly seen a U.F.O in Doncaster.
Jeff stepped to the microphone and asked whether anybody had any requests. From just behind Phil a voice brayed, ‘How about a cover of John Cage’s “Four And A Half Minutes” ?’ There was a ripple of laughter from the heckler’s chums.
Phil nudged Christy’s elbow. Loud enough to be heard he asked, ‘Who let Lord fucking Snooty in here?’
Phil tried to relax as Hairshirt Boutique took the stage. They were a laugh at least. Fred had painted them a backdrop featuring the faces of Pope John Paul, George and Ringo. Their songs; ‘Jesus Had It Easy’, ‘Cheesecloth And Ashes’, ‘Spectacles, Testicles’ and the rest, were all about Catholicism. John had really only ever had one idea but he certainly got some wear out of it.
By the end of their set Phil’s unease had returned. He felt there was some connection between the unfamiliar faces in the audience and the throbbing in his fingertips, but he couldn’t work out what it was. Even the arrival on stage of the original line-up of The Shakespeare Monkees couldn’t lift his mood. Each of them wore a different teeshirt; Eddie’s showed the face of Eric Morecambe, Fred’s that of Philip Larkin, Linda’s featured a picture of Leon Trotsky, and Danny’s showed a mugshot of Colonel Sanders, the chicken supremo. They ended the usual set with the new song to which the teeshirts related; ‘Take Your Pick.’ The song was built around Ed’s theory that Eric Morecambe and Philip Larkin were twins separated at birth, and Trotsky was assassinated by a vegetarian hit-squad who’d mistaken him for Colonel Sanders.
Ed discussed the song’s significance in the next edition of Milk, Milk, Lemonade; the one with the headline ‘Beneath the beach, the pavement.’ He said the song concerned the idea of self-invention and the relationship between choice and identity. He concluded, cryptically, that the difference between your earlier and later, between what you get and what you’re given, depended on a willingness to open the box. Nobody knew what he was on about.
Phil felt his guts bubbling as he walked onstage with Hello Cruel World. He flexed and unflexed his hands, trying to get some life or feeling into them. Despite weeks of applying surgical spirit, his fingers were still as soft and pink as babies. The band steamed into ‘Hell For Leather’, hell for leather. After a verse and a chorus Phil could feel his grip weakening. He stumbled on the change into the next verse. Danny did a short fill to cover, smiled at him, then frowned. Phil felt his shirt sticking to his back. During ‘Dead In The Water’ he felt his skin start to shred. Soon the bleeding would start. He didn’t come back in with Animal after the quiet middle section.
Four bars into ‘Like Shit To A Blanket’, rescue came. Phil saw Tony thread his way through the crowd and step onto the stage. He knew it would all be over soon. Tony gripped Animal’s guitar round the neck. Hello Cruel World went out of time and stammered to a stop. Tony had spotted Animal letting people in through the fire exits he remembered from the Majestic’s Saturday matinees. As many people had got in through the back door as through the front. Tony ordered them to end their set. Sheepishly they obeyed.
As the band shifted their amps and coiled their leads, Daniel Dedooronronda mooched shyly onto the stage. Alan, with his sax around his neck, smiled nervously at Phil. ‘I quite enjoyed that.’
Phil wanted to nut him. He settled for flicking the ash from his Rothman into the mouth of Alan’s sax. He returned from punching the walls in the toilet in time to catch most of Daniel Dedooronronda’s set. Heretical in their guitarlessness, their music was angular and irritating, but they had enough friends in attendance to secure a positive response. They dedicated ‘Prospero W’ to Eddie. They dedicated ‘Whose Word’s Worth What?’ to Doublethink. They dedicated ‘My Blue Peninsula’ to Max and Dave.
Patrick leaned into Phil’s ear and said, ‘Why don’t they cut out the songs and just go round patting all their mates on the back?’
Next, Christy and Hello Cruel World watched, baffled and resentful as Doublethink impressed their well-scrubbed friends with their fuzzed up cod-reggae . Each song went over better than the last; ‘Re; Dub’, ‘Dub and Dubiety’, ‘Dread At The Controls’. Reversing out of a cul-de-sac of reggae related puns, they finished with ‘Double-Cross’. As the final chorus;
Cut yourself up,
Dust yourself down,
Start all over again, repeated and faded, there was a sudden wave of movement and talk near the door.
A voice rose above the others. ‘Who’s in charge here?’ it demanded.
Adrian from Daniel Dedooronronda strode towards the door with a lopsided smile and his arms outstretched. ‘Nobody is, sir.’
Christy and the band heard this. They thought, Sir?
Patrick was the first to see. ‘Fuck me. Coppers.’
‘Jesus!’ Danny said, remembering. ‘I’ve got five tabs on me.’
‘Just drop them for fucksake,’ Patrick said.
‘Don’t be a twat. Me brain’ll dissolve.’
‘Not do them. Drop them. On the deck, and walk away.’
‘Fuck that,’ Animal said. ‘Come on. Bogs.’
They scuttled towards the toilet while Tony tried to convince the officers that the event was a private party requiring no music licence, and Adrian promised that the building would be cleared noiselessly within half an hour.
While the other four stuffed their personal inside their pants, Danny pulled out a matchbox and slid it open. Each reached in and picked out a tab.
‘Have we got scissors?’ Phil asked. ‘Dennis said about doing a half the first time.’
‘We’ve got nothing to cut it.’
‘Ah, fuck it,’ Animal said. ‘Down the hatch.’ He balanced the tab on the end of his finger and sucked it in. The others did the same.

Once again someone had turned up and started acting the heavy father. Once again a convoy of people packed up and drove off with their tails between their legs. In the Wartburg, as the others looked at their watches, Danny talked over his shoulder. ‘I was thinking we could do with getting away again. Amsterdam I was thinking. Busking. If it works out we could stay longer.’
Patrick, Animal and Phil looked at each other and smiled.
‘You smell anything?’ Patrick asked Christy.
‘No.’
‘You?’
Phil laughed.
‘You smell anything, Animal?’
‘Yeah. Bullshit.’
The cars pulled up in Caroline Place, Weymouth. The only house in the street was a narrow terrace the colour of wet sandcastles, wedged between a carpet warehouse and a pub called The Duck and Rabbit. Mike stepped out of his car and walked up to the front door, took out his keys. This was the Mudhut, the new home of Doublethink.
Danny turned to the others. ‘Don’t fucking believe it. That’s the place I was saying about renting. They must have got in just after.’
‘How they manage the rent then?’ Animal asked. ‘Half of them’s still up the College.’
From the back seat Phil muttered, ‘Pater probably stumps up the readies.’
The five clumped round the home that should’ve been theirs. They clumped past knots of people sat cross-legged like picnickers. They clumped past people having conversations. Having conversations! It was supposed to be a fucking party! They clumped past Linda, dancing in the hallway, her huge boots clacking on the red tiles, her hands flapping like small birds nailed to something. They clumped past Anita from Daniel Dedooronronda explaining to Donald that she couldn’t think of a category her music fitted into. They paused as Phil said to her, ‘How about jazzy cack?’
They went into the kitchen. Terry and Gina were discussing whether Terry’s wearing of a donkey jacket represented an ironic statement or a gesture of allegiance. The five seated themselves around the kitchen table, which held a forest of bottles of already-spurned alcohol. They tucked into the Thunderbird, the sweet cider. As they waited to come up Eddie told them how he’d decided The Cows should play to their strengths, stop gigging, and just publish occasional set-lists in the fanzine.
Animal found himself watching the hairs on Eddie’s wrists. He stroked the top of his stomach and very quietly said, ‘Awww.’
Christy looked at him. ‘Do you reckon?’
‘I fucking reckon!’ Phil said.
Between sniggers Patrick nodded.
Danny stood suddenly. ‘I’m off for a wander.’
The five separated just as things started to fragment.

Danny cruised around the ground floor like a clipper in full sail. He realised, suddenly surprised, that he was on his fourth circuit of the living room. He stopped near Derek and John. John was telling Derek about Christ On A Bike. Derek was impressed. ‘Got this record you’d like the other week. Up this record fair in Bournemouth. Bloke there does rare old psychedelia. Bought the first single by Jesus Christ and the Nailknockers. Mint condition.’
‘Jesus Christ and the Nailknockers?’ John was warming to Derek already.
Danny leaned into the conversation. ‘Someone’s always got to bang in the last nail.’
‘Eh?’
‘Nothing.’ Danny frowned, then laughed. Where had that come from?

Ed and Fred were in the hallway, discussing a possible extra verse for ‘Take Your Pick.’
‘What about Samuel Beckett and Old Man Steptoe?’ Ed asked.
‘Stretching it a bit,’ Fred said.
‘I’ve got this picture of Beckett where he’s the dead spit. If you look at him a bit squinty.’
Phil sat on the stairs peering at them through the banister-rails like a baby in a cot. Gingerly he reached between the rails. There was glass there. Was there glass there? Was there?

Animal was standing on the kitchen table, doing his party piece; the opening speech from ‘Kick Out The Jams’ by the M.C.5. He announced that the time had come for each and everyone to decide whether they were going to be the problem, or whether they were going to be the solution. He told everybody that it took five seconds, it took five seconds of decision, five seconds to realise their purpose here on the planet.
Mike watched nervously. ‘Mind that table. It comes with the house.’
People started applauding Animal. Thin quick strings of lime green light formed cat’s cradles between their hands. Animal blinked hard and got down off the table.

In the corner of the kitchen Alison and Gina talked, while Patrick hovered, wanting a light.
‘I wonder about him sometimes,’ Alison said, nodding in Animal’s direction.
‘Mm. That Pontin’s thing,’ Gina said. ‘Sounded like something out of “Lord of the Flies.”’
‘Have you got a light?’
Gina looked at Patrick. He looked at her. Her eyes looked downwards and away. ‘It’s already lit.’
Her hair was like thick brushstrokes on an oil painting. He couldn’t take his eyes off its shimmer and ripple.
‘What?’ Gina asked.
‘Your hair.’

Christy was sat on the edge of the bath. There was a feeling in his stomach, a glow, like going down in a lift forever, or the lid lifting on something. He stared at the wallpaper. He watched the woodchips, like roaches, like albino cockroaches, scuttling, herding, unherding. I wonder where she is tonight. He clenched his eyes shut, squeezed the thought out of his head.

Instinctively they returned to each other. They clambered onto the living room sofa like they were boarding a life-raft. The wall opposite was covered in faded wallpaper with a pattern of large blue-grey thistles. The five settled down to watch, like puppies seeing television for the first time.
Animal watched as thistle-swans glowed orange and changed into thistle-phoenixes. The kitchen door opened. In the white fluorescent light the tailfeathers of a thousand peacocks spread like a thousand fans, or a thousand hands of cards. Every eye on every feather winked in perfect time.
Patrick watched the women, reclining, knees lifted to each side, heels tucked below buttocks, hair spread like haloes. All shapes, all sizes, not turning away.
Red Rickenbackers, then blue Rickenbackers. Phil could change them just by thinking. First red like Weller’s, then sky blue like Lennon’s. Red, red, red, red, blue, red, red, red, red, blue. Blue, red, blue, red. Then a hide stretched on a bench. Another hide. Then spreading like mildew across the wall, a thousand hides, stretched and pinned like moths. He wanted the guitars back. He put a hand across each eye. He opened his eyes. The guitars returned in a great rolling wave across the wall and vanished again. Get hold of something solid. Solid. Real. He stared at the wall of hides. There’s bricks behind there. There’s bricks behind there. But who bought the bricks?
It started in the left hand corner near the floor and spread. Danny watched the small child swimming breaststroke, an unnamed girl or boy, its legs bending and kicking. He would look after this one. Soon there was a whole wall of Busby Berkeley babies, kicking and swimming, and turning and sculling in synch.
Christy saw the shimmer, heard the lap of the waves. Across the wall a thousand divers entered the water, headlong with a massive, blue-grey splash. Then silence, rippling. Then, a thousand swimmers, coming up out of the water, lifting, triumphant.
Phil puffed out his cheeks, stuck out his bottom lip, blew a ripple along his fringe. ‘Fuck me ragged.’
‘What do you reckon?’ Animal asked.
‘Majestic,’ Christy said.
‘What?’ Danny asked.
‘Bit hectic,’ Animal said.
‘Just a bit,’ Patrick agreed.

Chapter 21

PHIL
I got into work late the Tuesday after Pontin’s. It felt like, teabreak over, back to the same old shake it all about. I got down the wet end and the Wildman was working at me bench. He just give me this gormless look and carried on. Olly asked how the holiday was and said Lenny was looking for me.
I thought I must be due a bollocking but he come and told me I was moving onto buffing. I was chuffed to start with. The money was better, plus you got the chance to do City and Guilds, and that meant day release once you got to Stage Two.
Inside a fortnight I was wishing I’d never changed over. The thing with the buffing is, you can’t wear gloves really. You need to feel the hide up against the roller to get the finish even. There was some chemical they put on the roller. It softened up the leather. And your fingers. I must’ve been a bit allergic. Me fingertips went bright pink, then the skin started peeling off like really bad sunburn. Stung like fuck. I asked about swapping back but they weren’t having it.
At home Paul had started picking up the guitar again. So seeing him playing, I was already getting reminded how far behind him I was. I’d got this habit off him of pulling a face whenever I hit a bum note. Me and him was in our room and I was running through the set. I pulled that face. Paul goes, ‘Pick a note, any note.’ Then the same again. I’d pull that face, he’d laugh. After a bit I stopped even pulling the face. Paul looked over, worried. He said how I could do with putting some time in.
But the more time I put in, the worse it got. The band had a practice up the Merman ready for the bingo gig. I was playing the lead bits on ‘Me Again’, but it was hurting so much I kept going out of time. People was alright about it the first go through, but the third time Animal goes, ‘I’ll do the lead for now if you want. Swap back another time.’
Then on ‘Dead in the Water’ I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t have no strength in me fingers. I seen Patrick rolling his eyes. I was ready to smack him one to be honest. Then Danny goes, ‘Jesus.’
I said, ‘I’m doing me fucking best.’
He said, ‘Not that. Your hand.’
I looked down. Me left hand was covered in blood.
Around then’s when everything started feeling different for me. Like everything was slipping through me fingers. Literally.
Come the actual night of the bingo gig I was fucking up royally. I was almost glad when that Tony pulled us off. I was making meself look a cunt. That’s probably why I had a bit of a bad time after.
That was another thing. That bingo gig was the first time the real collegey lot started getting into it. I remember sitting in the back of Terry’s mini outside, with me teeth gritted. He said he was taking a year out. I said, ‘How do you mean?’
He said it again, ‘Taking a year out,’ like everyone knows what that means, as if I was thick for not knowing.
I know some of that lot can be alright but I haven’t got much time for them. The way they talk to you does it for me. They’ll let something slip about how their mum and dad’s better off than yours. Then they’ll get embarrassed and say some bollocks about how their dad’s worked really hard, like my dad’s never done a hand’s turn in his life.
At the party after, that Alan said how it must be marvellous to have a craft, to work with your hands, all that shit. It’s nothing though. It’s like swimming or whistling. It’s just a knack. Not even nothing out the ordinary like kids at school who were doublejointed.
The other thing was the Christy business. It was right over the top. He got on your tits but it takes all sorts. He was just wired up different. I was half-pissed down the Merman with him once. I’d seen this thing on the telly about adoption and I said to him about how I used to think I was adopted. He said how he used to think he was autistic after he seen something on the telly about it. He was full of stuff like that.
There was just this different atmosphere starting with us lot. No prizes for guessing who I blame. Then maybe that’s just me knowing better afterwards. But even as early as that I felt like it was downhill from there onwards; downhill all the way.

Chapter 20

WILLSON
Easter. Christy left a note for his mother, in case she’d forgotten. It said, ‘Away for the weekend, back Monday.’
They tramped from the front gate through the grid of chalets.
‘Looks like a Borstal.’
‘Looks like a barracks.’
‘Looks like a model village.’
‘Looks like fucking Portland.’
Patrick turned to face the others. ‘I can’t believe you cunts are moaning already.’
‘We’re not moaning,’ Danny said. ‘Just saying.’

In the Tropicana ballroom and bar Phil returned with a tray.
‘Took your fucking time didn’t you?’ Animal said.
‘Met the blokes from the next chalet. They were talking about a kick-about, Sunday. Five-a-side.’
‘What do you think this is you normal cunt? Scout camp?’ Danny said.
‘Where they from?’ Christy asked.
‘Bristol. Police cadets,’ Phil said.
Animal put down his glass. ‘Tell me you’re taking the piss. Just tell me you’re taking the piss.’
‘Seem alright,’ Phil answered. ‘It’s only a kick-about. It’s not like I asked them round for a session.’
Patrick reappeared. ‘This one mine?’ he asked, lifting a pint from the tray and taking a mouthful.
‘Where you been?’ Animal asked.
‘Around.’ He looked over to a young woman near the door. ‘Just nipping outside a minute. Might let you smell me finger later, if you’re lucky.’

Animal stood and picked up the tray. ‘I’ll leave Patrick out on this one. He must’ve fallen in.’
‘What about Christy? Where’s he to?’
‘Fuck knows. I thought he went for a piss.’
‘That was twenty minutes ago.’
On the dancefloor three Bluecoats were judging the final leg of the disco-dancing competition. Across the floor, shuffling gracelessly, came Christy, doing the Twist in a black rubber dustbin, no number on his back.
Patrick, back now, but still with Sue from Harrow, covered his eyes. Sue touched his elbow, laughing. ‘Do you know him?’
‘Christ, no.’
‘Anyhow,’ she said, not looking at him. ‘I’d better get back. Me mum and dad’s over there.’
‘I’ll come over if you want. Have a chat with them.’
Sue looked at him, nonplussed. ‘Joking aren’t you?’
The applause, the stamping feet, rose above the music. Christy stopped. He took a slow solemn bow, and hit the floor face first.
On the way back from the Tropicana, they stopped off at the boating pond. Each untied a pale blue boat and pushed out from the edge of the water. Christy lay on his back in his boat and looked at the stars. He felt the bump of an oar against the boat, then another, then another. The stars spun gently above him.
‘Can you swim Christy?’
‘Yeah. Can you swim Christy?’
‘Yeah. Can you?’
‘Can you?’
Dining hall. Morning after. Sounds different. Not all that clattering. Rustling like trees. Waiters hang on a bit, leaning over, nodding, pulling the right faces. Them words coming towards us. Reaching, breaking up. Terrible. Imagine. How old? Terrible. Imagine. Stood there. Not able. Seeing that and not being able. On the edge. Of the water. Not able. What things are like.

Patrick suggested the swimming on the Saturday. There would be girls.
‘They won’t be on their guard in the daytime. Smooth in when they’re not expecting it.’
The others gave him the usual look, gave each other the usual look.
Christy hadn’t brought trunks. He sat in the spectators’ seats, breathed the wet air, heard the ownerless screams.
‘Yeah. You sit and watch, Christy.’
‘Yeah. You sit there in the nonces’ enclosure.’
‘Can you swim Christy?’
‘Yeah. Can you?’
Like seeing it out of the corner of your eye. Like in a flick book. Front room. Like it’s four times the size. Her, miles away. Saying something. Got her fingers on the table. Holding herself up. Saying something. Something about the sea.
That evening the Regal Theatre wasn’t regal, in any case. The five got seats near the front, the better to sneer. Wrecked, they laughed while others clapped, at the desperate singers and the desperate dancers.
The first comedian, they liked. He used to work in a departmental store. The boss was a Mr Dee, who was part mental. Crushed nuts? No.
Then came the big attraction; Ted Rogers. Danny, his lungs thick with Pakistani tar, coughed, then coughed again.
‘Cough it up, camper,’ Ted said to the darkness. ‘It might be a gold watch.’ People laughed!
Ted continued. ‘I bumped into that Johnny Rotten the other day,’ he said, unconvincingly. ‘He had a safety pin through his bottom lip, and one through his top lip. I said, “Why don’t you just have the one safety pin through both lips?” He said, “I wouldn’t be able to open me mouth then.” I said, “I know.”’
Ted rode the rolling laugh, winked, twinkled. Danny coughed again, producing a large khaki clot in the crook of his thumb and forefinger. A deft flick sent it arching, over the heads of the audience, briefly through the beam of the spotlight, to land on the sleeve of Ted’s crushed velvet jacket, unnoticed by all but the five. It was their turn to laugh now, out of synch. ‘Keep up.’ Ted winked. ‘Keep up.’
Later, back from the late bar at the Tropicana, they slammed the chalet door shut behind them. There was a knock within minutes. Phil went. He opened the door an inch and no more. It was the tall one from the next chalet. ‘Just checking you’re still on for the footy tomorrow,’ he said.
‘Suppose,’ Phil said, turning to check with the others.
‘Yeah. We’ll be there,’ Danny called out. ‘Oink oink.’
‘Other thing,’ the tall one said, keeping it matey, practising for the future. ‘Any chance you could keep the music down? You’ll ruin your ears with that there punk rock.’
Phil shrugged. ‘Fair enough.’
‘Good man. See you tomorrow. Half three.’
‘Yeah,’ Phil said, thinking, fucking likely that is.

Sunday dragged like any Sunday. On the sofa in the lounge a conversation was unrolling itself.
‘Tell you what amazes me,’ Phil said. ‘Pig ugly blokes going out with really beautiful girls. What’s going on there?’
‘They’ve probably got nice personalities,’ Christy said.
‘They get really nice drugs, that’s what it is,’ Patrick said.
‘Not all of them, surely,’ Christy said.
‘Course it is,’ Patrick said. ‘You see some smelly fucker with a face like a cow’s arse and he’s going round with someone really tasty-looking, what else is it going to be?’
‘The birds do it to freak out their parents. Scare them into thinking they might breed with someone who looks like a forceps baby,’ Animal said. ‘Especially the posh ones.’
He started on about how it was a particular thing with greboes, the way they got hold of fantastic-looking girls. As the conversation wound on Christy receded into himself. He sat admiring his quarter of Pakistani Black. It was beautiful. There was gold writing on it, in foreign. It looked like monks used to do. He felt Phil watching him.
‘Are you going to smoke that or are you going to spend all weekend fucking looking at it?’
Patrick unzipped a cigarette. ‘I don’t understand you Christy. It’s like you can’t decide whether you want to be completely out of your box, or right back inside yourself.’
Christy said nothing.
On the playing field at three thirty, the police cadets padded, jogged, dribbled in the drizzle, waiting. Meanwhile Animal was busy in the kitchen. He’d carved two lip shapes from Spam and was sticking them either side of the lightswitch with some jam. Patrick had hooked a handful of hair out of the bath’s plughole and was drying it under the grill. He teased out the individual hairs and tucked them around the Spam. With his thumb Animal made a circular smudge of Marmite below the two Spam lips.
Patrick added a few gobbets of shaving foam to the collage and turned to his audience. ‘Can you guess what it is yet?’
Phil started laughing. ‘Fucksake.’
‘Fucking artist, I am,’ Animal said.
‘That,’ Patrick gestured, ‘Is the nearest Christy’s going to get to a cunt all weekend.’ With a sudden lunge Patrick splashed a blot of ketchup onto his creation. ‘Pity Kev’s not here,’ he said. ‘This’d bring back a few old memories.’
Christy lifted himself dizzily from the sofa. ‘Think I’ll have a bath.’
‘Yeah. Have a bath Christy,’ Danny said. ‘You fucking stink.’
Christy stopped still at the door. ‘I had a bath yesterday.’
‘What in?’ Animal asked. ‘Ferret’s piss?’
While Christy bathed Danny was in the kitchen scraping at a loose patch of plaster with a fork. ‘I’m fucking sick of that twat. It’s like dragging a seven year old round.’
‘I know,’ Patrick said. ‘You have to tell him every fucking thing. Christy skin up, Christy get a round in, Christy say something for fuck sake.’
‘Tight too. Fucking hog.’
‘Anyway. Get a drink out of him, one way or another.’
Danny collected the scrapings of plaster into a pile and began crushing out the lumps with a spoon. Patrick folded a wrap, and scooped in the light brown powder.
Animal put his head round the door. ‘He’s coming back. Ready?’
‘Nearly.’
They’d discussed whether they should make a big deal of it, or play it casual. They couldn’t agree. As they sat at the table in the lounge, Danny began moving aside the bong, the beercans and the ashtrays, as if he were preparing for some ritual.
‘You know when me and Danny went up Dunmore last?’ Animal asked Christy.
‘Mm.’
‘Did I mention we got some smack?’
Danny closed his eyes, thinking, fucking idiot, he’ll never fall for it like that. Christy looked doubtful for a moment, until Patrick chopped out a thin line on the table and did it with one brisk snort. Christy did the same. The four looked at him with satisfied smiles.
Minutes passed. ‘I’m not getting nothing off this,’ Christy complained. The four laughed until tears ran down their faces.

Across the camp people were preparing for the evening. The police cadets, scrubbed and shaved and aftershaved, were knotting polyester ties, pulling on white socks. Next door, Danny, grunting, shat into a bucket. He showed Animal.
‘Fuck me!’ Animal said. ‘You must’ve been keeping your back straight.’
Patrick hopped down from his position squatting on the edge of the kitchen sink. He and Phil looked at the turd he’d landed in the ice-tray from the fridge. Patrick covered his nose. ‘Jesus. Fucking stinks!’
Phil glanced at him. ‘Only you could be surprised by that.’
‘Meaning what?’
‘Nothing.’
With a butter knife Patrick spread the shit into each section of the tray, and placed it in the freezer compartment.

In the Tropicana, the first two rounds were bought with the money Christy put in for the bogus smack. ‘Cheers Christy!’
‘Yeah. Cheers.’
‘Cheers.’
‘Cheers Christy.’
By the time last orders was called they were ready for any victim. They watched as the police cadets left.

The cadets’ kitchen window was open.
‘Just tip it in,’ Danny whispered.
‘No,’ Patrick said, inspecting the contents of the bucket. ‘We don’t want to use it up too quick.’
‘Come on,’ Animal said. ‘We’ll be here all fucking night.’ He dipped into the bucket with a soup ladle, scooped out a wedge of shit and gently dropped it in through the kitchen window. He banged twice on the glass. The five ran for cover.
‘Come out little piglets.’
‘Yeah. Come out, or we’ll huff and we’ll puff and we’ll blow your chalet down.’
‘Then we’ll cake you in shit.’
Round the front next. From behind the bushes, scoop after scoop was launched, to arc through the air and slap dully against the door of the enemy chalet. Nobody came out.
‘This is bollocks. Boring bastards aren’t coming out.’
They retreated to their chalet. As the others settled down for a session Christy gave an exaggerated yawn. ‘Think I’ll turn in.’
Nobody spoke. Christy went to his room.
Patrick slammed the lounge door. The bottom pane of frosted glass dropped out and broke. ‘Cunt! We’re supposed to be on holiday and he hasn’t done a fucking thing!’
Christy paused on the edge of his bed, frozen.
Danny spoke. ‘He’s a fucking wanker. It’s like dragging a dead body round with you all the time.’
‘He does do things sometimes,’ Phil said.
‘Like fucking what?’ Patrick shot back.
‘That time he was dancing in the dustbin,’ Phil said, lamely.
‘Yeah,’ Danny said. ‘Only when he’s pissed though.’
‘He might as well be in with the straights next door.’
Christy sat on his bed shaking, listening. Count up to fifty. Same again. Crawl to outside the front room door. Shove it open. Never quick enough. He’s gone already. Even before the talking’s stopped. Nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. They’ll go soon.
Arms round the armrests on the Utility chair. Getting ready for bedtime. Getting ready to hang on. Her trying to get me out. Clair too. Lifting the chair up into the bedroom. Jump and run towards the door. Shuts it with her foot.
Seen it on the telly. Glass with the yellow flowers on pressed against the wall. Ear against the glass. Still can’t hear him. Keeping him in a secret room upstairs.
Christy saw the doorhandle turn. He ducked under the covers, pretended to be asleep. He heard the other bed creak, heard two boots hit the floor, heard the soft dry scrape of clothes being removed. He counted to one hundred, then looked. He could see Phil, pretending to be asleep. Phil twitched, grunted, turned over. Then sniggered.
‘Reality, Christy! It’s coming to get you!’ Danny shouted.
‘You’re in for a fucking shock Christy!’ Animal laughed.
‘We’re going to fucking crucify you!’ Patrick yelled.
More laughter. The lounge door slammed. The kitchen door slammed.
‘Get ready Christy!’ Animal and Danny shouted, half a warning, half a threat.
Christy jammed a chair under the doorhandle. The door shook as a shoulder rammed against it. The chair jerked, tilted. Christy flung himself against the door, leaned there, grunting. He weakened. The door opened a few inches. A handful of small dark cubes shot through the gap. ‘Eat this, Christy, you tragic twat!’ Patrick shouted.
Christy gave a last shove. The door slammed shut. He wedged the chair back in position. He looked around the room. Frozen shit. Numb, he scooped up the cubes with an empty cigarette packet and flicked them out of the window.

Dawn broke milky. Christy was packed and ready. He crept from the stinking bedroom, through the stinking lounge. He sleepwalked to the station and waited for the train. He braced himself for another stretch in quarantine.
Later, in the kitchen Animal lit a cigarette, put the kettle on, and muttered to himself; ‘Give it three weeks, the stupid cunt’ll be back.’